Christopher Pollnitz reviews Clear Brightness by Kim Cheng Boey


Clear Brightness

by Kim Cheng Boey

Puncher & Wattmann, 2012

ISBN 978 1 92145 094 5




It was Coleridge who prescribed for Wordsworth what seems a superhuman task, that the poet who wishes to be considered original must “create the taste by which he is to be enjoyed” — or rather, as Coleridge’s dictum is first recorded, “the taste by which he is to be relished.”  Since emigrating to Sydney from Singapore in 1997, Kim Cheng Boey appears to have taken on a similar project, for rather than ingratiate himself to the Australian readers, by adopting Australian themes refigured with some performative ethnicity, Boey has continued to write as a Chinese poet whose chosen language is English, but whose sensibility is Asian.  To put it more accurately, Boey is a Singaporean and international poet.  The tone or address of his work makes few concessions to Australian expectations; rather, he wants the Australian reader to enter international space, to make the passage at least part way to his perspective.  Four of his works over the past decade – the New section of After the Fire: New and Selected Poems (2006); a memoir of his literary formation and world travels which is also an essayistic yet beautiful prose poem, Between Stations (2009); the four-poem selection from his work he included in the dazzling new anthology, Contemporary Asian Australian Poets (2012), which he has helped to edit; and Clear Brightness itself, the first collection of his poems to come out since After the Fire – all help mark out the course he has taken as an émigré Chinese poet writing in Australia for a wider-than-Australian readership.                                                                                

It is an individual path, neither stridently postcolonial nor postmodern.  In one of the four prefaces to the Asian Australian anthology, Adam Aitken writes of poets who have chosen a “theory-oriented” path, eschewing identity narrative and politics; Boey eschews all three of these paths.  In his own preface, Boey describes a writer’s cultural migration as a process with no endpoint, “of negotiation, shuttling back and forth between places, between past and present, and between lives and narratives.”  To see such a perspective in practice in a poem, one can turn to “Stamp Collecting” from After the Fire, a poem which Boey also chooses to represent his work in the anthology.  The gift to a daughter of the father’s now fragmentary stamp album elicits a stream of intelligent, difficult questions: “Is Australia our home? / What is this country?  Why doesn’t it exist / anymore?  Why is the Queen’s face / on the stamps of so many nations?”  From first to last, none of the questions is fully answerable, but the daughter completes her own re-ordering of the album, picking “the last of a Singapore series / when it was still part of Malaya, / fingers the face of a youthful Elizabeth / pendant over a Chinese junk, / and slips it home.”  The poem avoids identity narrative, or what Boey’s beloved Keats described as the Wordsworthian “egotistical sublime”, by deflecting attention to another family member’s negotiation with an ethnic past and present national identity. 

In one poem from Clear Brightness, “The Causeway”, Boey does explicitly lament Singapore’s 1965 break from the Malayan mainland.    In “Stamp Collecting”, by contrast, the specific political implications of the Chinese and Commonwealth emblems on the stamp which the young collector “slips . . . home” are left suspended, and the invitation is to read them rather as symbols of personal and historical change.  The Queen and her former empire, like the Chinese sailing vessel, are no longer young.  The “junk” and the stamp itself are somewhat dated means of international communication and passage, back and forth.  Rather than a localised realism focussed on a spot of time, the poem opens out into an interrogatory, migratory exploration of a many-layered past and present.  If a poem like “Stamp Collecting” marks the point Boey’s Singaporean-internationalist poetry had arrived at in 2006, what new directions has he taken in Clear Brightness?

The volume’s title poem represents a pastoral or suburban-pastoral scenario of Australian life.  A December bushfire, licking the edges of a northern Sydney suburb, drives a father to make a midnight dash for safety through the “papery / ash . . . my son / bewildered in my arms, his sister bright-eyed, /exclaiming, It’s snowing, Christmas just weeks away.”  The father’s memory flicks, not to the northern hemisphere and the brilliant whiteness of a European Christmas, but to Singapore and the Chinese Qing Ming.  This spring festival of the dead translates as “clear brightness” but, transplanted to Singapore’s equatorial climate, is remembered as a feast of heat and ashes.  Qing Ming’s ashes were thrown up by the burning of paper money, “valid only in afterlife.”  The purpose of the offering, Boey drily observes, was  “to replenish the ancestors’ underworld credit.”  This quaint piety has now itself been disposed of – “the cemeteries dug up, razed” and the “bodies unhoused, ashed” – to make way for development.  “Grandma and Dad” avoided this ignominy by turning Catholic and going “straight into the fire” of a crematorium.  When the father returns to the “new life” he is making Australia, he finds it adrift with “ash, flakes falling like memory.”  Memory has its pangs, but the succession of erasures that Qing Ming has undergone has buried the particularity of the festival and its ceremony of mourning under a placeless “snowdrift of forgetting.”

Mortality and commemoration of the dead are not new themes for Boey, but they have new prominence in Clear Brightness.  The grandmother is again commemorated in “Soup” as the matriarch who, having lost family and friends to the atrocities of the Japanese Occupation, crafted the staple dish that served to hold together, if not the restless generation which followed hers, the generation of her grandchildren.  The preparation of the soup is music and dance and painting, and its savours, which come from the grandmother’s griefs and loves, joy and patience, make up “the whole/ that we chewed, sucked and slurped / To make us whole.”  The hymn to the hearth is itself a potage of dictions, of sensuous imagery and ekphrastic symbolism, of historical testimony and personal statement, and of witty instances – “the harmony of five flavours a corrective / to the imbalance around and in us.”  Set as the grandmother’s daily heroism is against the nightmare of history, her soup-making might also recall the phrase Yeats applied to Keats’s championing of physical pleasure, “deliberate happiness.”  This is what her ritual chooses, despite knowledge of what else has befallen and what awaits.

Elsewhere, in a series of poems about time and tempi – “Lost Time”, “Marking Time” and “Take Five on the F3” – the dailiness of experience and the making of art are further opposed and synthesised with unexpected results.  A rueful wit that diversifies and lightens the “grave news” gives these poems their prevailing tone.  Hearing Brubeck’s jazz number on the radio during the long shuttle to and from work, the commuter’s mind shuttles back to troop movements in World War II and forward to the articulated lorries sweeping past on the freeway, “from the darkened gums and paddocks dissolving to / rolling miles of oil palms and rubber trees.”  The jokey, jerky rhymes and rhythms here flatten into eternal recurrence, there take up an optimistic upbeat, but whatever the destination and whatever the moment’s mood “you just have to keep the pedal down.”  The paradoxes of experience, transformed into the contraries of art, make themselves felt in every poem and across the collection as a whole.

Clear Brightness is replete with series and sequences, the most impressive of which is a sonnet cycle, “To Markets.”  The Sydney market which comes first in this sequence might be the one just across the road from Gleebooks, and from there the cycle roams on nomadically, through “a queue of bazaars, Xian, Cairo, Marrakesh . . . ”  For me, Xian’s is the most tempting of the markets.  Formerly called Chang’an, the city was the gateway to the Silk Road and the barbarian West during the Tang Dynasty, and the birthplace of printing.  In stalls that peddle everything from “Mao watches” to “fake imperial coins”, you can still find “name seals in rose quartz”, and in “the street of calligraphers” see “a goateed old man trail his bamboo brush / across stretched rice-paper”, recreating “Wang Wei’s ‘Seeing Off Yuan / the Second on a Mission to Anxi’.”  This last is the one really coveted item from all the markets for which Boey prepares his fourteen-line catalogues.  It is the one memento he would he would like to keep with him, for “west of Yang Pass”, as the Tang Dynasty poet put it in the eighth century, “there will be no friends.”  And west of Xian, the market-goer of another millennium sees “the long caravan train / of memory and desire fading into the endless sands.”

“To Markets” is not only a cycle, but a corona, crown or wreath of sonnets, an Italian form best known in English as John Donne realised it, in the seven-sonnet prologue to his Holy Sonnets.  The precise formal requirements of the corona, met by Donne, are loosened, adapted and extended in ways that interrogate as well as underscore the conceptual content of Boey’s cycle.  The overlapping of the last line of each sonnet with the first of the next is calculated, less to show what local markets in a global conspectus have in common, than to probe what common urge impels us to join acquisitive queues, whether these lead into period-rich and culturally diverse bazaars, or into monstrous Western shopping centres, or into those fetes and fairs that sell secondhand wares, craft items and farm produce, and have sprung up in opposition to chain supermarkets.  The cyclical form allows Boey to ponder why it is we desire “to be desiring”, what spiritual lack or “want” it is that stirs “the want to want.”  “To Markets” poses Buddhist questions: do we want to be bound forever on the wheel of desiring more and more possessions?  Do we want to break out, eternally, if to cease from appetitive desires is to cease being fully human and alive, to “end here at this stall”?

“Memory and desire” – one of several conscious quotations or fully assimilated borrowings from T. S. Eliot in Clear Brightness – might be used to show how effortlessly Boey moves between a modernist line descending from Donne to Eliot, or from Keats to Yeats and Lawrence.  But to read the poems Boey has written in Australia solely by the light of these English traditions is to read him through the limited preoccupations of this reviewer.  Boey does indeed write with a “historical sense” of “the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer”, and within that the whole of English literature, “in his bones”, but to that should be added his interest in later twentieth-century American poets who have made passages to India differing from Eliot’s idealist, Harvard-filtered approach to the Sanskrit scriptures.  No doubt Eliot’s concern for a poetry that registered the tempo of the modernist period and its cities, but remained stateless and timeless, has been a durable influence on Boey’s poetic.  Yet, coming from a Chinese perspective to Buddhist and other Eastern contemplative traditions, Boey refreshes what Eliot’s puritanical instincts made of desire and memory.  Eliot’s idealist purging of the love and fear of the beginning and the end has different outcomes to Boey’s musings, in “La Mian in Melbourne”, on the beginnings and endings of his plate of noodles.  If one turns back the clock a little over a millennium, to the Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu’s “In Abbot Zan’s Room at Dayun Temple” – “Sanskrit sometimes flows out of the temple, / The lingering bells still echo round my bed. / Tomorrow morning in the fertile paddock, / Bitterly I’ll behold the yellow dirt” – it’s here one finds affective paradoxes and complexities in key with those of Clear Brightness.  Boey’s is a less detached, less idealist Buddhism than Eliot’s – so it seems to this Australian reviewer – but to slurp a Boey poem as an emotional whole, we must allow him to create in us a relish for his kinds of wholeness.


CHRISTOPHER POLLNITZ  has written criticism of Judith Wright, Les Murray, Alan Wearne and John Scott, as well as D. H. Lawrence, and has been a reviewer for Notes and Queries and Scripsi, as well as The Australian and Sydney Morning Herald.  His edition of The Poems for the Cambridge University Press series of Lawrence’s Works appeared in 2013.


Rachael Mead

Rachael Mead has been published in literary journals in Australia, Taiwan and Ireland and was shortlisted in this year’s Newcastle Poetry Prize.  She was awarded Varuna’s 2011 Dorothy Hewett Flagship Fellowship for Poetry and her poetry collection, The Sixth Creek, has just been published by Picaro Press.

Driving through the mallee

We burrow beneath the heat blanket
attuned to the air conditioner’s unsteady wheeze
like the final breaths of an terminal friend.

Cupped in the shallow bowl of mallee  
we speed past scraggled trees,
lean and desperate as pioneers.
Cockatoos, Caltex and St. Vinnies
prove the pretension of borders.

We drive the hours, each town
huddled around its silo.
The hay farmers’ vast stubble fields
lay bare the hard years
distilled to monosyllables:
Cut. Rake. Bale.


Muscles’ Song

The river grooves its slow meander
between cliff and forest,
cool and sweet as silty molasses.
Droplets fly in sunlit chandeliers.

We stroke. This is the day;
a meditation of movement,
infinity symbols
traced with every muscle.
The twin blades outline endless double loops
like fingering a string of prayer beads.

I am eye and arm,
falling into rhythms
dictated by the muscles’ song.
It’s a mix of languorous reaches
sculled slowly with a tail wind
or snags dodged with swift arms
aching skin to bone.

And just when you want
to inhale the pain and drown,
it comes.
Limbs click into automatic, pain drifts
disinterested as a pelican.
With each blade-splash
the sound of a soft kiss,
deeper into stillness
we stroke,  we stroke.



Jena Woodhouse


Jena Woodhouse’s publications include two poetry collections and a novel, Farming Ghosts (Ginninderra 2009). A collection of short stories, Dreams of Flight, is about to be published by Ginninderra.






Muswell Hill Road, London N10

It was a summer of high hopes –
of what, we weren’t entirely clear;
it was enough to be in London:
theatre, bookshops, pied-a-terre –
a good address to house-sit, owners’
prized possessions stowed upstairs.

We respected privacy
and primacy of others’ chattels,
but our son, who didn’t
understand exclusiveness,
would steal up to the absent
children’s nursery, spend hours there,
a toy he’d found clutched in his hands,
delighting his small grip.

There was a sense of people we
should meet, but somehow never did;
Highgate Cemetery close by –
Karl Marx, angels, Lizzie Siddal,
lately joined by Alexander
Litvinenko’s lead-lined casket.

Opposite, the dim green dolour
known as Highgate Wood
wove its late-Victorian trance,
reeking of untimely ends:
oaks decked with garlands, messages
from friends lamenting early deaths
in this last remnant of the ancient
forest realm of Middlesex.

A melancholy bubble waits to rise,
to take me by surprise;
I think of time’s attrition as a thief
that skulks beneath my bed.
Oh to be in England!
pipes a small voice in my head.
At her third attempt to access
inner elbow, hand, then wrist,
the pathologist draws blood.
The vein resists, then gives its best.


Birds for Evie

Arid spaces in me crave
paint in captivating shades:
saturated saffron, cyclamen,
alizarin; cinnamon and pomegranate,
fresh as cries of morning birds
in ancient lands; Armenia,
Uzbekistan, Iran…

I give Evie a flock of larks,
tinged with bright naïveté,
simple as the day, and artless
as a child who paints for joy;
but they are only semblances
of tin that rattle in the wind,
trinkets looped upon a string
that neither fly nor sing.


Maxine Beneba Clarke


wheelerpic3Maxine Beneba Clarke is a widely published Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean descent. Tim Minchin has called her work ‘amazing’. Overland literary journal says she’s ‘one of the most compelling voices in Australian poetry this decade’. Oz Conservative has lamented ‘…unappealing. Clarke’s views are the more dangerous ones’. It’s this last endorsement she wears afro-high. Maxine won the 2013 Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript for her debut short fiction collection Foreign Soil and the 2013 Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize for the poem nothing here needs fixing, the title poem to her forthcoming collection.


let alone

the one thing you never counted on
is how hard it is
to be a woman alone
let alone a black woman
alone with kids

let me alone
and get on with your business

how hard it is
to rent a house
in the neighbourhood of your child’s school
or get a job working
the hours you now need to

for five years you paid off joint plastic
and now that same bank manager
talks right through you
you have no ascertainable steady income
i am very sorry
we just can’t give a credit card to you

how hard it is
to get a break
or a loan
or a smile
or a hearing

or the real estate to repair
what so urgently needs mending

your child is the brightest boy in class
behaves besides
but now
they are always watching
waiting for him to slip

let my child alone
and get on with your business

a woman alone
let alone a black woman
alone with kids

the one thing you never counted on
was how hard
it is

Ann Ang

Profile Picture

Ann Ang’s poetry, fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Eclectica Magazine, the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS), Poskod, Kartika Review, The Common and elsewhere. Her first collection of short stories, titled Bang My Car (Math Paper Press, 2012), was launched at the Singapore Writers’ Festival 2012. An avid birdwatcher, she is an educator at the Academy of Singapore Teachers.





Jie, you complain you are sixty,
but I’ll never beat you at being old.
In Primary Four, you were in Sec Two—
Taller, your studious silences like Sumatran haze.
You did my homework because it was right
to prove that my centre parting and fondness for kueh,
were really yours. Mama caned you
for having Pontianak-red nails.
That was a better kind of love.

You got angry, grew up into being beautiful.
Now people call you by your name.
Days pass the way we crack gingko nuts,
chalky cracked shell under bleeding nails:
you leaving the house keys, a new fridge.
My years were kernel and sap;
husband and children. Yours: a Mini Cooper,
a scarf and a tin of biscuits you returned,
dropping by for five minutes. “So much trouble,
give the kids eat. Singapore is so hot.”

“No one asked you, what,” you didn’t say.
So this is how we grow old together:
I’m wondering if you need spring cleaning,
more vitamins. Your left knee is gone;
you’ll die alone from leukaemia.
But I have grand-children.
The days filter through the rain trees,
hot humid light. You do nothing,
so time does not pass.
You say, “Don’t need, don’t bother,”
alone with the stories you believe about yourself.


Kent MacCarter

K MacCarterKent MacCarter is a writer and editor in Melbourne. He’s the author of two poetry collections – In the Hungry Middle of Here (Transit Lounge, 2009) and Ribosome Spreadsheet (Picaro, 2011) – with a third, Sputnik’s Cousin, coming out in 2014. He is also editor of Joyful Strains: Making Australia Home (Affirm Press, 2013), a non-fiction collection of diasporic, essays  from international authors now living, writing from Australia. MacCarter sits on the board of The Small Press Network and is active in Melbourne PEN. He is Managing Editor of Cordite Poetry Review. He was recently awarded a Fulbright Travel Award to read in Indonesia, promoting American literature.



Howard Arkley on the Afternoon of 21 July 1999       with Fiona Hile

Flat-backed and drafting up the Hills
Hoist subdivides a blue into a bonkers purple
geodesic Yves Klein stubbed his cones and rods on
grade seven, oily spills, pleats the Shadows
carp how Boris Karloff won’t obey
them now in wide-screen video
and how green sees things in waves
like a woodchuck in a hurry and cyan’s
purées heavy-petting a potted dwarf
Mandarin. It’s a two kilometre sing-along
of colour that’ll detonate your Smurf
and pelt it down on postcodes with a pinch
of coltan in a laptop’s cell where MS Paint
and red square-dance with a Kumbaya of breeze and Juan
Davila’s been sprung fisting our box of Icy Poles again
tricky is the sherbet’s please, this golden brown
albeit one of tongue and recidivist patrols

so that even Spinoza as Spinoza-any-woman
couldn’t have counted on the head of a parricide
the firecracker limbs of Pacific tide bores,
palisading the facade out of his cerambycid beetle
Or is it when a woman loves it is with air of the universal
he said, indifferent bobcat sorting through broken self. Why
privilege the beautiful over the good when you can seize
up love as a way of retaining poetic language: drained radiator people
cars, flowers, plot the scope of geometric existence
while the old-fashioned crepuscular head of
you and green were already gone by that stage


Late Christmas Eve in Hyde Park, South Chicago

I expand behind my second level
window and unwrap a chitchat with an outside
squall of snowfall
accumulating on a pregnancy that’s growing still
and icily defeated on the alleyway
filled recycling bins of curse words incubate
with heat
    Come ye all ye virgins!
   Christ! I shout
into the endless bucket of a wintry dark
and toward a phrase of figures assuming shape
on tiptoed steps
up the tiny hours sprinkled all along my boulevard. And appearing from the narrow
daguerreotype of testament inclemency
          float three Chinese
Kanji characters skating noiselessly and stiff along the sidewalk
delivering a late-night telegram to some address
     they can’t decipher
yet or … Jesus H! … are those the silhouettes
of three intrepid bootstrapped mothers
pushing prams across a sheet
              of December’s empty typing paper
at this late hour
curved and doubled over vehicles
in cursive fonts I do not follow
I cannot conceive. Why I compute
returning thirty years inside an outer space of three
hundred billion flakes of snowfall constellation and on a Scrabble board that waits
behind me … an abandoned match I wasn’t winning
warms the names of triplets tiled
out of order
       some ancient blinking off-set printing press
       an escalator up
           or Sputnik’s cousin
tumbling wild its dormant locomotion
above a gravity
that’s rearranged to child


David Wong Hsien Ming

David Wong Hsien Ming was born in Singapore, discovered poetry as a child at a Sunday lunch and pursued honors in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, reading poetry at Rutgers University New Brunswick along the way. His work has appeared in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Ceriph, Eye to the Telescope, Unshod Quills, Literary Orphans, and earned an Honorable Mention in Singapore’s Golden Point Award 2011.


To take care of your mother

Undo the woman before you—
go back beyond your youth

in fact go back into yourself,
pretend your unbirth

and her unpregnancy;
pretend the unbloom

of every bougain villea
in the family garden

and the unbloom of that first flower,
your father whom she found

half-grown and half-sated;
the first white workshirt

she scrubbed and poured softener over,
unwash that too;

unwash the lies and half-apologies
and the times you attempted

to use barbed words for reconciliation
until a thick stain spreads

to the utmost walls of the home
making it a blackbox

of broken dishes
and set-aside dreams,

of soft bolts of joy
and love so often tasting of pain;

make this blackbox of now, your life
—and meet her in her girlhood.



It is night on your skin
where the needles swam.

Your body’s practiced betrayal
halves the venom’s speed today.

We have porridge for dinner again.
The swollen grain like flies’ eggs

hang together as we hang
together. I suppose in an older age

the eggs would have hatched and the maggots
would be weaning gratefully

on you, whom I kiss
with veils about my eyes.

The sheets that hold your sleep
ebb and flow and beg your case

to God who’s just about ready to—
look all I’m saying is

life does all the work
and we let death take all the credit.



Maria Takolander

Takolander--Nick Walton-HealeyMaria Takolander is the author of a book of short stories, The Double (Text 2013), and two books of poems, Ghostly Subjects (Salt 2009) and The End of the World (Giramondo, forthcoming). She is a Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies and Creative Writing at Deakin University in Geelong, Victoria.




The Jimi Hendrix Experience

ENTER a man with six fingers on each hand
              and an electric lady,
              her blood bright as the moon’s.

Their son: fretting in a closet,
              turning the psychedelic noise
              of his drunken parents upside down.

1 brother and 2 sisters were born damaged,
             blind and silent, so it is only him
             —and another brother somewhere—

spellbound in the clamour of this hotel room.

ENTER the Sunburst Fender Stratocaster,
              made for his father, with his plentiful digits.
              The boy is lost in its violence.

Watch him: night after night, licking his woman,
              his teeth, like pieces of noise,
              raining onto the stage.

Back at the hotel there is red wine
              and pills, white as amnesia.
              EXIT the boy, into billowing silence,

only the fluorescent lights still brash.


Casino Royale

The sky let loose—not a good omen—when the hare went to visit the polar bears. The bears greeted him, blocking the doorway, their fur bristling, black noses dry and porous like ice. They stank of dead fish and urine. They turned their colossal backs to him, and the hare followed them into the room, shaking his sturdy ears and skittering rain. There was paisley carpet: brown with green eddies. The electric heater was on: a jittery orange glow. As usual there was a game going. At the table, draped with a crocheted cloth, was a horse, her back slumped with the ages, her eyes yellowed. Next to her was a moose with a scrap of fur missing from his snout. His antlers were brittle but intact. The drinking was being done from rank mugs. The ale was poured liberally.

The hare took a seat, picked with his teeth at a knotted mat of fur on his hind leg, and then was dealt in. He sifted through the picture cards in his paws. Table talk was forbidden. In any case the hare was thoroughly preoccupied. He felt a familiar hunger for his own droppings—and something else, he only now began to realise, like a secret longing for his own death.

Flick-snap. He was struck by a jester wielding a witchdoctor’s stick. The hare looked at the polar bear and at the stack on the doilied table. The bear’s eyes were impossibly still and dark. The hare drank and wiped the froth from his mouth. He eyed the hunched paw of the bear as it turned the final card. Flick-snap. A black weapon shaped, it seemed to the hare, just like a scythe. He had lost everything.

The hare turned to the horse, who had closed her eyes. ‘So, how about it?’ he said to her, urgently, quietly. The mare opened her lashed lids and turned her eyes upon him. She looked at him, he thought, with wist. Just then the neighbourhood dogs came careening into the room, wet as the day, carrying on at the world as if something had to be done about it. The game, the hare knew, was over.


Jordie Albiston

Albiston pic

Jordie Albiston has published seven poetry collections.  Two of her books have been adapted for music-theatre, both enjoying seasons at the Sydney Opera House.  Jordie’s work has won many awards, including the 2010 NSW Premier’s Prize.  She lives in Melbourne.  



I went to the shooter’s house    pled shoot me
shoot me    open my chest like an unread
book    blast my colophon    break my spine    let
all my pages fly out    look    recto    vers-
o    I am a box    & aimed a finger
right here at my heart    there are poems in
there    you can hear their din    each tiny word
weighs a ton    I-am-out-of-everything    
baby needs air    but don’t mind me    reload
your gun    your bullets will taste just like love

    it is cold    she walks to the corner    vers-
    o recto left right left    turns the corner    
    thinks about karma    wonders exactly
    which stars are extinct    she steps    stops    forgets   
    remembers the whole world is dead as a
    door-nail    shot while it blinked someone said

a white car has had all its windows smashed
in    it wasn’t there yesterday    marry
me? is written high in the sky    lucky
I went out the back for a bit before
the words passed away    today is Thursday
it is seven past three    a warm wind moves
through the trees    someone is crying    I am
pleased to report the results of such del-
icate signs    the driver may be dead    the
girl say no    but I think yes! & alive

    the day peeked in    I wasn’t home    flying
    with fishes swimming with birds driving my
    car upside down    tomorrow is coming
    it says on the news    I may or may not
    be in it    time is gone still    it’s tricky
    to tell    this day is made up of minutes    



Eileen Chong

Eileen Chong is a Sydney poet who was born in Singapore. In 2010 she won the Poets Union Youth Fellowship and was the Australian Poetry Fellow for 2011-2012. Her first collection of poems, Burning Rice, was published in the New Voices Series 2012 by Australian Poetry. The book was highly commended in the Anne Elder Award 2012 and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2013.



Noodles in Hong Kong

We’d walked downhill along Star Street
and emerged onto a version of Hong Kong
I finally remembered. Traffic, neon signs
and shopfronts like those from my childhood.

We squeezed into the single narrow aisle
of the tea room, locals staring at us outsized
outlanders. No one would share our table.
I had no Cantonese beside the usual ‘please’,

‘thank you’ and ‘I’m ok’. There were no pictures,
which meant we were in the right place.
Wonton mein, swallowing cloud noodles?
Brusque understanding. Two bowls slammed down,

steam rising from soup like early morning fog.
These were the best dumplings we’d had so far:
silken pastry encasing sweet prawns and crunchy
water chestnuts. Each mouthful of noodles

had just the right elasticity. The workmen had stopped
watching us; the news was on the TV in the corner.
We squinted and tried to make sense of the images:
a nuclear warhead, the Chinese flag, marching armies…

Three painters spilled through the door and sat
at our table. They looked hard at us and I smiled.
We finished our tea and paid for our meal. HKD110 –
a small price for perfect clouds with a hint of sesame.



The god of musicians has been trying
to get my attention. Last month, a man
on a street corner in Chinatown stopped me
with his playing. When he finished the song

I uttered a name: Ah Bing. He asked me where
I was from. How does a girl from Singapore know this?
In the Utzon annex of the Opera House
the cellist Wang Jian played Bach solos.

When the audience wanted more he spoke
of a blind street musician and played The Moon
Reflected in the Second Spring. That was the first time
I heard it. In the tunnel at Central Station

it surfaced again. The old man bowed away
at his two-stringed erhu and China swelled
like a mirage: bridges, moon gates, willows.
I emerged into the light and put on my sunglasses

to hide my moist eyes. Immortal Han, I thought,
don’t you only watch over flautists? There is no
Chinese god of writers, so I think of the Kitchen God
when I work. Sticky New Year cake. Sweet words.